You’re in a strange but somewhat familiar world. Ahead of you lies the unexplored. There’s an undeniable sense of magic. You haven’t felt closer to your childhood since… well, your childhood. This is Warden: Melody of the Undergrowth.
You begin as young Warden Tavian, immediately thrown into the midst of conflict, your father running you through a classic-style tutorial to help you ‘remember’ what he’s taught you before. The controls are basic, but just enough: you can move around, jump, crouch and attack. Everything you need for an action-adventure. Before long, you’re left on your own and that’s when the adventure truly begins. There’s a real thrill in simply being in the world; the soundtrack and artwork work well together to create a fantastical atmosphere.
What makes this game shine is the enthusiasm on the developers’ part. You can tell the game was conceived from a love of adventure and fantasy. Throughout the game there are collectable lore scrolls, detailing the history and giving context to the plot you’re embroiled in. The artwork is reminiscent of the N64 and Gamecube eras: the models are far from realistic and consist mostly of bold, simple colours, giving the game a childlike feeling and drawing you back to times when games were simpler. It’s a strange feeling isn’t it, nostalgia for something you never actually missed?
The plot setup is easy to follow too: help the spirit and save the forest. However, character portrayal within the story is great. As if in tribute to its era, dialogue is delivered through visual text rather than audio, inviting you to invest and create these voices in your own mind – and how can you not when there are tribes who refer to themselves in third person, knights driven to mania, and meta-aware training dummies? (‘It’s fun! At least that’s what they made me say.’)
The world variety keeps things fresh. You’ll explore a giant underground pyramid, a neglected factory and a forest grove filled with poisonous plants. Throughout the stages, you’ll meet other Wardens (a fiery-headed Bitt and an eco-conscious Medeira) who come with their own unique abilities to help you navigate area-specific perils. The game merits revisiting past areas after acquiring the other Wardens: on a first play-through, some objects don’t make sense in that you can’t interact with them but make sense later. (So that’s what the bubbling cauldron was for!)
The combat however, does feel clunky. Your attack animations are much slower than your enemies’ so you’re often left completely vulnerable when swinging. To some however, this might seem more like a challenge than a creative flaw. There are moments when the difficulty seems to spike (the horde in the pyramid!) and your lumbering attacks just don’t match up. (Also, what’s up with that rapid-strike-one-hit-kill from some of the skeletons?) The boss fights push the combat mechanics to their limits in forcing you to use what you know in a completely new context. At first they seem impossible, but as you recognise their attack patterns, you can figure out when to strike.
To keep you on your toes, your weapons don’t last forever, but don’t worry. There are plenty of swords and axes lying around (plus you can scavenge from enemies you’ve bested – even the plants). This mechanic encourages you to think ahead for the future and plan what you’ll bring to the next fight.
At times, the game world can almost feel too big, and you can only run so much before feeling like you’ve been running forever. Fear not – the devs have this covered in the form of fast-travel campfires. It’s as simple as sleep at one fire, wake up at another.
If you’re yearning for that sense of easy-familiarity-meets-hard-earned-discovery, then Warden ticks these boxes. It’s a deceptively simple game, exploring wider themes of industrialism, nature, preservation and inheritance. Warden feels like a gem that you missed from years ago, that sure, while a bit rough around the edges, is just as rewarding to discover later on and still fills you with that unquestionable sense of wonder, when magic still seemed possible. Warden brings back that part of you that thinks, what if?
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.